Arby’s, the fast-food joint famous for it’s roast beef sandwiches, has been around since the mid-1960’s. And while it is often lumped in with other fast food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King, it’s technically a sandwich restaurant more so than a burger restaurant and thus compares itself to restaraunts like Subway and Quiznos. With the slogan We Have the Meats, Arby’s has been made fun of by comedy giants like John Stewart, who regularly mocked Arby’s on his version of The Daily Show. Because they realized that any publicity is free publicity the people of Arby’s actually embraced the regular jokes from Stewart and company showing that they have a sense of humor that is as large as the size of a Big Montana sandwich (which is pretty large). So, let’s take a look at the top ten untold facts about everyone’s favorite roast beef restaurant, Arby’s.
10. There is no Arby
Unlike other fast food joints like Wendy’s and … Wendy’s, there isn’t actually someone named Arby that the restaurant is named after, at least not completely. The first Arby’s began in Boardman, Ohio in 1964 by two brothers, Forrest and Leroy Raffel, who owned a restaurant equipment business and thought that there was an opportunity in the fast food market for a franchise that didn’t rely on selling hamburgers. The original name that they came up with for their restaurant was “Big Tex”, but that name was already taken by another business that also wasn’t in Texas (but rather Akron, Ohio). Instead they decided to look within for the name and use the initials from Raffel Brothers – R and B, or Arby, or Arby’s. That doesn’t help explain what their signs are supposed to be, unless it’s a gigantic cowboy hat which represents that they never gave up on the “Big Tex” idea, that is if it’s a cowboy hat and not a fish jumping out of water like many online are convinced that it is (and to be honest, the more you look at it the more it looks like it may be just that), despite the fact that they’re not a seafood restaurant. But then again, they’re also not a restaurant that serves “Tex-Mex” either, so it seems like Arby’s just likes to keep us guessing. Well done, R-B’s.
9. It Was Marketed as a More “Luxurious” Option than Other Fast Food Joins
The first Arby’s opened in 1964 outside Youngstown, Ohio in a town called Boardstown, Ohio in the month of July after two brothers who were in the restaurant equipment business felt that there was a gap in the market for a fast food restaurant that served something other than hamburgers. Beyond that, they also felt that the fast food industry was in dire need of some class and thus Arby’s was born. Initially serving only roast beef sandwiches, potato chips and soft drinks, the first Arby’s also attempted to cater to a more “upscale clientele” by focusing on their interior decor more so than other places like McDonald’s had (especially considering the first McDonald’s restaurants didn’t even allow people to step inside). While McDonald’s had be around for a quarter of a century by the time that Arby’s rolled around, the idea of a hamburger stand was still fresh in the minds of many people and so the ability to actually sit own and eat a delicious roast beef sandwich for $0.69 cents was thought of as relatively luxurious as most of those stands even at the time only charged $0.15 cents for their burgers.
8. Hank Aaron Owned a Bunch of Arby’s
When Arby’s launched it expanded at a relatively fast rate, opening around 50 new restaurants per year. The most famous owner of Arby’s restaurants was baseball legend and homerun king Hank Aaron, who started purchasing Arby’s franchise locations in-and-around Milwaukee in the late 1980’s (Milwaukee being the town where he played for the majority of his career). When speaking with employees of his numerous locations Aaron was quoted as saying: “The most important thing that I want all of us to understand is that we are serving the public, whether customers buy one Coke or 15 sandwiches, they’re all going to be treated the same way, with a smile and a ‘thank you'”. Talk about a home run! It seems that the investment worked out for him despite the fact that he played in an era before the massive contracts of today he is thought to be worth around $30 million dollars today. A lot of professional athletes make the mistake of making bad investments or starting their own restaurants, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a guy with as good of an eye as Aaron was capable of eyeing a blossoming investment and turn it into a profitable set of franchises.
7. It was Way Ahead of the Curve in Terms of Offering Healthy Food
Any place that sells piles and piles of red meat may not jump out at you as being one of the most healthy places on the planet and while most fast food restaurants offer healthy options these days back in the days of the early 90’s it was relatively unheard of for a fast food joint to offer anything relatively healthy like salad or anything grease free. However Arby’s has never been one to follow other restaurants and thus it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that it was the first fast food joint to offer a “lite” menu all the way back in 1991. That menu offered not only salads but salads with less than 300 calories at that. Beyond that, in 1994, it became the first chain restaurant in the country to ban smoking at all of it’s locations, something that most cities and/or states wouldn’t adopt for the next decade plus. After all, you can’t keep ordering delcious roast beef sandwiches if you’re dead… Or can you?
6. Their Best Selling Sandwich isn’t a Roast Beef Jam Jam
As we’ve seen thus far, the original Arby’s menu offered just a roast beef sandwich, chips and soft drink (gasp, no curly fries?), but since then one could argue that Arby’s has had the most diverse menu of any fast-food restaurant (sandwich or otherwise) in the game. Despite that though, Arby’s is mostly still known for their roast beef sandwiches so it may come as a surprise to hear that their roast beef sandwich (or any variation of it, like the Beef and Cheedar, for example) isn’t the top selling sandwich they have.Their top seller is actually a recent addition to their menu in the Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich, which was introduced near the end of 2014. Containing smoked briset, smoked gouda cheese, bbq sauce and crispy onions, the sales of this delicious concoction’s sales have increased year-to-year by nearly 15 percent. Now, while you could argue that their Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich is a roast beef sandwich as it’s roasted and beef, it’s by definition a brisket sandwich.
5. Surprise Surprise, People Like Meat
With all the meat that Arby’s has to offer you’d think that people would be tired of eating gigantic amounts of meat all-the-time and would instead be asking for lighter fare. However, as Arby’s learned in a weird way, it’s actually the exact opposite. Back when Arby’s expanded their menu far beyond roast beef sandwiches they wanted to let people know that they had the meats, not just the meat, and so they started doing advertisements that showcased the different protein types that were available at their restaurants like chicken, roast turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, angus steak, bacon and of course roast beef. According to Christopher Fuller, Arby’s VP of Brand and Corporate Communcations, people mistook the ad for something people at Arby’s branded the “Meat Mountain”. “People started coming in and asking ‘Can I Have That?”, Fuller told The Washington Post. Like most fast-food joints you can actually request off-menu items from Arby’s and the Meat Mountain is one of those sandwiches and it’ll run you about $10 and also include swiss and cheddar cheeses on a roll served with an angioplasty.
4. They Hold the World Record for the Longest Commercial Ever
As previously stated on this list, the top selling sandwich at Arby’s, at least as of the writing of this article is the Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich, a delicious barbeque concoction that actually sounds like it’d fit right in at the original name for Arby’s restaurants, ‘Big Tex’. The reason that the Smokehouse Brisket is so delicious is that it’s actually smoked… For 13 hours. To prove that, Arby’s actually created a commercial that showed the entire process from beginning to end for the entire 13-hours and while it sounds like the perfect piece of viral marketing (especially considering that it ended up as a Guiness World Record) it was actually aired on television as well. On a Saturday in the city of Duluth, Minnesota, the commercial aired in full for the entire 13 hours and it was tracked that people on average watched for nearly 40 minutes, which is amazing considering the amount of time people spend fast forwarding through regular commercials. Not to be topped on the anniversary of the commercial, Arby’s released 500 DVD box sets that were comprised of six-DVD’s, all with the entire 13 hours of delicious meat smokery combined with a bonus DVD that included eight hours of turkey being smoked. Talk about food porn.
3. They Bought Pharrell’s Hat
If this list has proven anything, from it’s mention of John Stewart’s constant ripping of Arby’s to the more recent entry discussing their 13-hour television commercial, it’s that the folks in Arby’s marketing department are really good at branding their company. Perhaps the best example of that came during and after the 2014 Grammy’s, music’s biggest night. It was during those Grammy’s that people started to notice that the hat that singer/rapper/producer Pharrell Williams’ hat looked an awful lot like the hat from those towering Arby’s signs. Because of the hilarity that ensued people posted all sorts of pictures of the hat and even created a Twitter account for the hat itself, which was designed by Vivienne Westwood and was worth a fortune even before it became a celebrity in it’s own right. Both Williams and Arby’s took notice, with Williams putting the hat for sale on Ebay (with all the money from the sale going towards the One Hand to Another charity, which helps kids learn through technology and the arts) and Arby’s buying the hat for a cool $44,100. What they did with it has yet to be seen, which probably means that if you’ve eaten at an Arby’s since 2014 you’ve most likely ingested part of Pharrell’s hat.
2. You’d be Amazed at How Many Roast Beef Sandwiches They’ve Sold
Arby’s has always been considered a second or third tier fast-food restaurant even if it’s the second largest sandwich restaurant in the business (with an ever increasing marketshare thanks to it’s purchase of Buffalo Wild Wings (See number one) and the recent and ongoing closing of hundreds of Subway sandwich restaurants) so it may surprise you to learn just how many sandwiches the restaurants have sold since the first Arby’s location opened in 1964 in Ohio. According to The Huffington Post, Arby’s has sold over five-billion classic roast beef sandwiches alone, which is a staggering amount of sandwiches regardless of how you break it down. Beyond that they’ve also sold 3.34 million pounds of corned beef and about 1.37 million pounds of sauerkraut, which makes sense because they sell one of the only rueben’s in the fast-food game. While Subway recently released a limited edition version of a Rueben all it did was remind people that they probably should be eating at Arby’s instead. Either way you slice it (get it?), that’s a whole lot of sandwiches and a considering the fact that Arby’s was able to buy Buffalo Wild Wings, it’s a testament to both the staying power and increasing popularity of Arby’s restaurants. Speaking of which…
1. It Owns Buffalo Wild Wings
Arby’s made news across the business and restaurant industries back in November of last year after it was announced that they would be purchasing Buffalo Wild Wings. The all-cash deal meant that Arby’s would be paying nearly $160 a share for Buffalo Wild Wings, a deal that in-and-of itself was worth nearly $3 billion dollars. Business can often be incestuous and Arby’s is a great example of that as it is owned by a few different organizations itself, a minority owner of Arby’s being Wendy’s (which owns nearly 20% of Arby’s). The remaining 80% (or so) of Arby’s is owned by a conglomerate called Roark Capital, which also owns big stakes in restaurants like Auntie Anne’s, Carvel and Jimmy John’s. Roark Capital originally wanted to be named “Big Tex” Capital, until they realized that a company in Akron already had that name. Okay, that last part was a joke. Buffalo Wild Wings was previously a private company out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and despite it’s massive growth was facing external pressure from investors to go public and was also reaching a plateau in terms of growth thanks to oversaturation and the lowered television ratings of the NFL. Now that Arby’s owns B-Dubs, they have cornered the chicken wing and roast beef markets, leaving a seafood restaurant as their next and final acquisition before they can rest easily having completed the trifecta. Long John Silvers, look out.